Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people in the Department for Work and Pensions, said on Sunday night she believed the unemployment problem was down to a lack of “appetite” for the jobs on offer.
Her comments are likely to provoke anger among those desperately seeking work with little success. The latest official count of unemployed people stands at 2.68 million, while the figures show the number of new workers being sought by employers in the last quarter of 2011 at 463,000. This is equivalent to around six people for every vacancy in the country.
Recent analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research found wide variations across the country. In Hartlepool there are 16 jobseekers for every vacancy, while in Middlesbrough there are 12.
But Miller appeared confident the problem lay with people’s unwillingness to take jobs and making sure they know “where those jobs are”.
Asked about unemployment on BBC Radio 5′s Pienaar’s Politics, the minister said: “If you actually look at the facts and the figures, there’s 400,000 jobs at any one point in jobcentres. I was up in the Wirral on Friday talking to one of our local jobcentres there and there isn’t a shortage of jobs. What there can be is a lack of an appetite for some of jobs that are available, so we’ve got to make sure people have got the right skills, that they don’t see a risk in moving into employment and that this is actually not just a choice but it’s actually the route they are going to take. So I don’t think it’s a lack of jobs at the moment, I think it really is making sure that we’ve got people knowing where those jobs are.”
She continued: “Every family should be a working family. I think it’s not so much workshy as have people got the right skills? Can we overcome their fear of the risk of going into work, or indeed, some of the fear of the problems that it will create for the rest of their family … it’s not just about that individual, it’s about their family as well, and it’s not just about skills, it’s getting them to be not afraid of taking on that job.”
When those classed as “economically inactive” – not looking for work for a variety of reasons – are factored in, the figure for those out of work and below the age of retirement swells to 9.29 million. This includes those claiming out-of-work disability benefits.
Miller said it was important for the government to reform the welfare system to ensure those who wished to work could. She said the benefit cap was vital to reduce the unsustainable level of benefit payments, but that measures would be introduced to ensure vulnerable people were protected.
“It’s absolutely right that we have to be sure that all of the reforms we put in place are fair and there are some very clear exemptions when it comes to the benefit cap for anybody who’s in receipt of disability living allowance or the successor the personal dependence payment. What’s important is that we also recognise that many disabled people do want to be able to get back into work. Half of disabled people do work at the moment; many more would like to. So it’s absolutely right that we should be structuring our welfare system to support people to be able to do that.
“So whether it’s through the universal credit, which will remove that cliff-edge – an immense risk that disabled people face at the moment when they go back into work, putting in place the work programme, or indeed work choice which gives specialist support, all of that can help remove disabled people from that feeling of being trapped into welfare dependency.”